With more than a full week of spring training action now under their belts, baseball season is in full go in Arizona and Florida as Major League squads look to prepare for the pending 2017 regular season grind.
In addition to watching the handful of camp battles resolve themselves over the rest of March, the focus around baseball will be on the returns to health of a handful of rehabbing players and an emphasis on not adding too many additional new names to the injury report.
The Cleveland Indians have been able to avoid anything significant in the early going, but eyes have been trained on a handful of veterans who had yet to make their spring debuts.
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Will the second half cool down from Cleveland Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin lead to a pronounced sophomore slump in 2017?
The Indians are saying “goodbye” to a pair of popular veterans who played integral roles in helping the Tribe reach Game 7 of the the 2016 World Series. It was the first Fall Classic for the Tribe in 19 years. Gone are the power-hitting Mike Napoli and base-stealing Rajai Davis. Both veterans were signed to one-year deals before last season and both proved there was still a little something in the tank.
Napoli has yet to sign on the dotted line with another team. However, Cleveland’s big free-agent addition of first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion means there is no room for Napoli. Encarnacion, who is a more consistent hitter over his career, is an upgrade there. The middle of the Tribe’s batting order got better on Thursday with the official announcement of the contract agreement.
Davis and his 43 stolen bases are also gone. The Indians did not sign an upgrade or a similar player as they did for the first base/DH job. Instead, the speedy 36-year-old shortstop inked a one-year, $6 million pact with the Oakland Athletics last week. Unlike Napoli and his power, it is unlikely the Tribe will reach outside the organization for a replacement to Davis’ feet.
Tyler Naquin capitalized on a disastrous outfield situation last spring in Goodyear, Arizona, and helped the Cleveland Indians fill a desperate need with his surprise breakout during camp to win a spot on the 25-man roster to open the season.
Despite several return trips to Triple-A Columbus to fine tune some things in his game both offensively and defensively, the 25-year-old left-handed hitter worked for large stretches of the Major League portion of his season as a platoon center fielder with veteran Rajai Davis and put together a solid and largely impressive season during his rookie campaign.
With Davis officially relocating on a free agent contract with the Oakland Athletics, it will be that much more important for Naquin to now prove to the Indians brass during spring training that he can handle the grind of regular playing time in center field, against both right-handers and left-handers.
Michael Brantley is supposed to be ready in the first two months of the season, but his timetable is not at all set. His replacements include a mix of veterans and inconsistent younger players who can’t play defense. A top prospect waits unready in the minors, while a converted infielder with basically zero Major League experience is hoping that he gets his first full taste of the Majors in the outfield.
Does this situation sound familiar? It’s the exact same one the Tribe was facing a year ago at this time. There are just as many questions as there are possible candidates for playing time. There’s hit-by-pitch machine Brandon Guyer, righty-killer Lonnie Chisenhall, Rookie of the Year finalist Tyler Naquin, switch-hitter Abraham Almonte, utility guy Michael Martinez, prospects Bradley Zimmer and Yandy Diaz, and, of course, Brantley. Each player has his own question marks, but the Tribe will carry at least three of them on the roster next season.
History has shown that Cleveland Indians players who are named the league’s Rookie of the Year do not always go on to have the most productive and injury-free careers on the field, so maybe, just maybe, the results of the American League Rookie of the Year voting this season will have positive results on the career of outfielder Tyler Naquin.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced its Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award winners from both leagues on Monday, with the Tribe rookie outfielder finishing a distant third in the annual award voting.
Major League Baseball announced its finalists for its top seasonal awards on Monday, with three members of the Cleveland Indians’ organization finding their names among the candidates for some end of the year hardware.
Three candidates were announced from each league for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, Manager of the Year, and Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
They say all good things must come to an end, and such was the case on Tuesday afternoon as the Cleveland Indians saw their franchise-record six-game postseason winning streak conclude behind a strong pitching performance from the Toronto staff and the reemergence of their bats in a 5-1 win by the Blue Jays in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The Indians had no answer for 24-year-old right-hander Aaron Sanchez, one of the Jays’ All-Stars this season in his third year in the Majors. Coming off of a 15-win regular season and a tidy 3.00 ERA, he kept the Jays in the ball game by keeping the Cleveland bats at bay and his offense provided its first burst of runs against the Indians in the series and did so against their ace, Corey Kluber.
The Cleveland Indians will return to the American League Championship Series as they stormed into Boston and completed the three-game ALDS sweep of the host Red Sox, 4-3, on Monday night.
Cleveland’s story book season will continue on as one of the stars of the game, David Ortiz, closed the final chapter of his. Josh Tomlin gave the Indians a strong start on the mound, Tyler Naquin and Coco Crisp had two big RBI each, and the Cleveland bullpen held on for a nailbiter of a finish at Fenway Park before champagne flowed for the second time this season for the underdog Tribe.
On a national stage, the story of Ortiz’s farewell overshadowed what was an entertaining, heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat kind of game that screamed playoffs. It served as yet another reminder for the overlooked and possibly overachieving Indians ball club that they will have to keep on winning to get the respect that they deserve.
When it comes to the American League Rookie of the Year award, Cleveland Indians history has shown that finishing second or third in the balloting may be better than taking home the hardware as the league’s top first-year player.
Such names as Sandy Alomar, Jr., Joe Charboneau, Chris Chambliss and Herb Score have won the trophy as members of the Tribe. Alomar, Charboneau and Score each had promising careers derailed by injuries. Chambliss was the only one to avoid the curse of winning the AL ROY as an Indian, but he spent the majority of his career with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.
In the last 25 years, the likes of Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez and Francisco Lindor each fell just shy of earning enough votes to take home the prize. Lofton would have been a Hall of Famer had he played in any era but the “steroid era.” Ramirez would have been a surefire HOFer if not for testing positive for a banned substance. Lindor just enjoyed a fine second season, as a key player in helping the Indians to their first postseason appearance in three years and first division title in nine summers.
The weather in northeast Ohio has already begun to turn some. Leaves are falling, the temperatures have cooled, and rains have steadily taken over the region. Fall is here and so too is the end of the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season.
The Cleveland Indians (91-67) head to Kansas City this weekend to play the final three games of the season. There may be one more to play on Monday, pending where Cleveland stands in the hunt for home field advantage and where the Detroit Tigers are in the AL Wild Card mix after the completion of Sunday’s games. Weather interrupted their series in Detroit during the week, as Thursday’s game was postponed and Wednesday’s game was called due to rain after five innings. It did not prevent the club from clinching its first AL Central Division title since 2007 on Monday night. The Indians are 11-5 against the Royals this season, outscoring one of their biggest divisional rivals, 76-52, this season.
The Royals (81-78) saw their postseason hopes and their championship defense thwarted after a three-game sweep in Cleveland when the two clubs last met earlier in the month. Decimated by injuries throughout the season, the Royals have had a roller coaster ride of a year and now play out the string playing for pride and to maybe disrupt the Indians’ ability to make it through the playoffs on an easier schedule. After being swept by Cleveland, they rattled off four straight wins before losing to Minnesota on Thursday.
Detroit hit a pair of tie-breaking home runs before rains delayed and ultimately ended the game after just five innings of play as the Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians by a 6-3 score on Wednesday night.
While the loss put a damper on the Indians’ pursuits of the top spot in the American League for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the loss did spare another four innings of work in what again amounted to a bullpen game for the Tribe. Zach McAllister made the start, working two good innings before a pair of relievers ran into trouble with extra base hits.
Cleveland grabbed an early 1-0 lead against Detroit’s Michael Fulmer, one of the leading AL Rookie of the Year candidates. Jason Kipnis drew a one-out walk and advanced on a throwing error from Fulmer before Carlos Santana doubled him home to put the Indians on the board.